Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for February, 2021

Donate to help sustain our work

tl;dr

Since our last report in the month of January, IFF has filed 41 RTI requests. Here, we give you an overview of the requests filed and why demanding transparency and accountability from government authorities is one of the key elements in our fight to protect digital rights.

Why is transparency important?

The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens are able secure access to information under the control of public authorities. Facilitating such access is necessary to ensure that democratic processes are not subverted by public authorities acting under private interests. Where transparency is not upheld as a value of public decision making, citizens are at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping a check on abuse of power by the public authorities.

The Right to Information Act is thus one of the most important tools at the disposal of the public to engage with and demand transparency and accountability from the Government. We use the Act to routinely extract information about various ongoing policies and projects that the Government launches. In the month of February, we have up till now filed 41 RTI requests with authorities at the Central and State level, both electronically and through physical filing on the various issues on which we engage with the government.

Note: Number of RTIs are calculated from the date of the previous report. While we try to make this a monthly report, some RTI requests from the previous month that were filed after that month's report may be included in the present report.

Data Protection and Privacy

One of our key areas of work is ensuring that public authorities respect data privacy and engage in practices which will ensure that the right to privacy is protected. We filed 28 requests with various authorities this month to ask for information pertaining to newly introduced projects which affect the data privacy of Indian citizens.

Under IFF’s Project Panoptic, we routinely file RTI requests with various public authorities after we come across news reports that they are developing or using facial recognition technology. This month, we filed requests with:

  1. Puducherry Police,
  2. Haryana Police,
  3. Imagine Panaji Smart City Development Ltd (IPSCD),
  4. Department of Higher Education, Chandigarh Govt.,
  5. Ongole Municipal Corporation,
  6. Telangana State Road Transport Authority,
  7. Andhra Pradesh Police,
  8. Education Department, Delhi Govt. &
  9. Delhi Police

Additionally we also filed requests with:

  1. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the Draft National Strategy on Blockchain.
  2. The Prime Minister's Office on the data breaches reported to the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre.
  3. The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited - HQ on the data breaches reported to BSNL.
  4. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways on vehicular data sharing by private platforms and applications.
  5. The Police Commissioner Office, Lucknow on a news report titled, For women's safety, UP police to track porn search on internet, published in the Deccan Herald dated February 14, 2021.
  6. The Director General of Civil Aviation on draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 which were made public for consultation on June 2, 2020.
  7. The University Grants Commission (UGC) on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/001 on January 8, 2021.
  8. The Central Board of Secondary Education on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/003 on January 21, 2021.
  9. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/004 on January 25, 2021.
  10. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/010 on Feb. 16, 2021.
  11. The Department of Health & Family Welfare, the Indian Council for Medical Research, the National Health Authority and the Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and specifically, the COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (CoWIN) digital platform developed by the Government of India.
  12. The Department of Health & Family Welfare, the Indian Council for Medical Research, the National Health Authority and the Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the privacy related issues of the COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (CoWIN) digital platform developed by the Government of India.

Free Speech and Censorship

Our other main focus is to ensure that freedom of speech and expression on the internet is protected and that unnecessary censorship does not lead to a chilling effect on people’s fundamental rights. For this, we routinely file RTI requests to demand accountability for instances which may hamper free speech on the internet such as website blocking or internet shutdowns.

In the last month, we have filed 13 RTI requests to demand accountability for violations of free speech on the internet with:

  1. The Ministry of Home Affairs on the reported internet shutdowns which took place in New Delhi on January 26, 2021.
  2. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on the reports that multiple twitter accounts have been suspended by Twitter India on February 1, 2021. A follow-up request was also filed with them on this issue.
  3. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on any proposed regulations of Over The Top (OTT) platforms that are being drafted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  4. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on any complaints received against the Amazon web series “Tandav”.
  5. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited - HQ and the MTNL- Corporate Office on websites, URLs or applications blocked pursuant to any order/decree/judgment passed by a competent court during 2020 and 2021.
  6. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Department of Electronics & Information Technology on a news report titled, Draft govt policy seeks 3-tier checks for OTTs, published in the Hindustan Times dated February 24, 2021.
  7. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/006 on Feb. 3, 2021.
  8. The Department of Electronics & Information Technology on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2021/007 on Feb. 8, 2021.
  9. The RailTel Corporation of India Ltd. on action taken on the representation sent by the Internet Freedom Foundation bearing reference no. IFF/2020/183 on Dec. 21, 2020.

Important Documents

  1. Digital Transparency: A Right to Information Report for January, 2021 (link)
Join the Internet Freedom Forum